Six things I learned surfing in Costa Rica

Surfing is one of the few sports that you look ahead to see what’s behind.
— Laird Hamilton
Photo by:  @kevinrawalsh  in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica in February 2019 with VoyEdge RX

Photo by: @kevinrawalsh in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica in February 2019 with VoyEdge RX

One of my absolute favorite days from our 2019 Costa Rica tour down to Puerto Viejo was the day we learned how to surf. As a company, we’ve run our Costa Rica tour three times and I was thrilled we added in a 2-hour surf lesson with some incredible local surfers with Dexter and his crew (shoutout to Dex and all the other guys). It was consistently ranked as the best activity of the trip and always had rave reviews, and now I know why.

But, before we get into that and sharing all of the incredible photos from our few hours at the beach, I just want to give a shoutout to our 2019 Costa Rica crew, who were AMAZING! Looking back at all these photos this morning gave me a lot of laughs and smiles….good times, people!

Anyway, surfing….surfing was never really big on my bucket list, but I knew going into this trip that this experience would be something I was looking forward to. Puerto Viejo, if you didn’t know, is on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica almost all the way down near the Panama border. It’s a small, growing town with a lot to love and a whole lotta coastline. While the waves can get pretty big here sometimes, it’s a great spot to learn how to surf. From the big beaches of Playa Cocles, to the more manageable ones that we surfed, Puerto Viejo is simply a great spot to hangout and post up for a week. The regaaeton vibes and cool evenings, and epic sunsets (and sunrises) really make this place special, and having friends who own a STELLAR lodge in OM at Cashew Hill (where VRX stays on our trip) completely adds to the experience of this town. Not to mention, the people down here (and on our tour) were amazing!

One of my favorite things with a trip like this is that it is meant for you to slow down, relax and unplug, mostly because the Wi-Fi is terrible in the town, but also because you are so close to nature on all sides and there truly not much to do besides de-compress and live in the moment. For me, while on tour, I really didn’t even want to be on my phone…and it was due to experiences like surfing, hanging out with the group, or being embedded in nature that made me not want to even think about being plugged in or ‘reachable.’

Interior view of Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica by @KevinRAWalsh

As it is, surfing….I had never surfed before, and being from New Hampshire I had really only been exposed to the cold-suit surfers of Hampton Beach and usually thought they were nuts for surfing in the winter. After that, and having lived in Boston, I only knew a few people who surfed out on Cape Cod, but having seen Jaws once too many times, there was no way I was every trying that…….I had never surfed. And never really planned to until we got to Costa Rica.

For our tour, though, we had surfing included on our second to last day in Puerto Viejo, and by now, the group had become pretty tight-knit with each other. Everyone was open with one another, had broken enough bread with each over over the course of our three meals-a-day together at Cashew Hill that we all expected surfing to be a fun and exciting time. Except, nobody knew who was going to be good and who was going to be bad.

Lauren and I had exposed the group to enough sunrise and afternoon workout sessions that we fully expected everyone to be ‘fit’ enough to try surfing for two hours, but damn……I was so tired at the end of it that I could barely hold up my surfboard. After Dexter and his guys pulled out the boards from the blacksand beach and gave us the rundown of how to feel cool and at ease on the boards, I think everyone was chomping at the bit to get out of the hot shade (yes, even the shade was hot) and into the water just to cool down a bit.

We all donned our Puerto Viejo surf gear (quick wet-dry shirts), grabbed our boards, and headed into the water so Dexter’s crew could send us onto a wave and into the beach one by one. And let me say…it was hilarious….and exhausting all at the same time.

The crew getting instructions on how to stand up on their boards. Photo by: @kevinrawalsh in February 2019

Overall, here were six things I learned that day from surfing for the first time.

1) Paddling is really really hard

I did not expect paddling to be as hard as it was, and maybe I’m just being a big baby here (guys, tell me if I am) but my shoulders were smoked by the end of the two hours. I had to take break after break just due to moving my arms in a circular fashion. Not only that, but keeping my body still on the board was pretty tough, too. I guess I hadn’t mentally gotten in the zone and slowed down enough to feel the zen. Either way, expect paddling to be tougher than you think.

2) Swallowing saltwater sucks

Oh man! So, I pretty much biffed on every wave I rode in on and I still had a damn good time, but man oh man….swallowing warm seawater those one or two times totally sucked, haha. I know you’re not supposed to, but some of the wipeouts I had were….pretty good….and I ended up with a mouthful of salty bathwater on more occasions than I would have liked. Keep an eye out for that when you’re surfing for the first time, and for godsakes….try not to swallow any seawater!

3) Don’t be a brick in the water

“Hi, my name’s Cam and here’s how I biff.” Photo by: @kevinrawalsh

I remember Dexter telling me more than a few times….'“Hey man, don’t be a brick in the water!” And to be honest, I had no idea what that meant until he watched me slam into the water a few more times. “You need to give up control, brother.” He said….”You gotta be more loose.” It finally sunk in. I was surfing like a brick on a surfboard and wasn’t moving with the waves. I was being too rigid, and perhaps that was something that I needed to pay more attention to in life itself. Going with the flow can be more conducive to productivity than holding your ground. Learning how to control only what you can control and for the rest of it - go with the flow.

I did stand it up one or two times after that, but my endurance was waning for sure, and I certainly ate it plenty more times, all with a smile on my face, though. I appreciate the info, Dex! Life lesson learned!

4) R-E-L-A-X

Probably one of the more interesting takeaways from the day, but surfing is all about learning how to relax. From paddling to waiting for your turn to moving into position, to riding in, standing up on the board and moving inward to the beach. There are a lot of steps when it comes to learning how to surf and the more relaxed you can be, the better. If I had a nickel for every time these guys said the word ‘Relax’ I would have had $100 bucks by the end of the two hours.

Everyone, everywhere was being told to relax and even when we felt we were (me especially) they told me again. It was never in a mean or pretentious way, but I’ve come to learn that is truly how the surfing culture is. It’s not just about ‘getting pitted',’ smoking weed, drinking beers and hanging out on the beach all the time, the lifestyle is just about taking a backseat and finding your zen, which I can appreciate much more now after having gotten these lessons from Dex and his crew. Truly, the more rigid I felt, the more out of of control I looked (see above photo for proof), and being a big CrossFitter, I’m used to controlling all the aspects of my body during certain movements, so giving up that control was especially hard.

All in all, with most things in life, ya gotta r-e-l-a-x and most things will take care of themselves. There’s a time to be aggressive and there’s time to go with the flow, and learning how to surf definitely relates more to the latter there. Our group was actually amazing when it came to positive reinforcement and cheering each other on.

‘Ya gotta relax, man!’ From left to right: Dan, Cole, Lauren, Tony and Joe. Photo by:  @kevinrawalsh

‘Ya gotta relax, man!’ From left to right: Dan, Cole, Lauren, Tony and Joe. Photo by: @kevinrawalsh

5) Don’t rush it, man!

I feel like most of us have this problem in life, but one of the big takeaways I had when learning how to surf in Costa Rica was that I had to stop rushing things…..being from the Northeast, and working in advertising, and doing CrossFit for over 6 years now has led me to a very bad habit. I rush most things. Including this surf lesson!

I was so gung-ho about wanting to stand up on the board that I had just breezed right through doing the right things beforehand, that as soon as I stood up (always too quickly) I flew backwards right off the board. Dexter kept telling me, ‘Slow is fast, fast is smooth,’ and it really didn’t click until later in the day. As humans, so much of what we do, especially in the 21st century, is reactive. Instead, if what we do became proactive with deliberately slow intentions, things would often go much smoother.

All in all, don’t rush things. Sometimes the pace of life will knock you on your ass if you’re going too fast. And that is most definitely a lesson I learned while surfing. I should have taken notes from the rest of our crew, who were killing it on these waves. Everyone was just relaxing and living in the moment.

6) You gotta be willing to laugh at yourself

All in all, surfing is definitely not something you are going to be great at the first time (well, except for Candace, Tony, Simonne and Cole - you all killed it) but for me and maybe a few of the others, we have a long way to go when it comes to surfing, and like most things you do for the first time, you have to be willing to laugh at yourself at every moment. From face planting, to smacking the waves and kicking the board out from under your feet, if you’re coming up out of the water without a smile, you are doing it wrong.

Nobody comes out of the womb being great at certain things. You have to remember you are a human being and we are the most adaptable species on earth. We can train ourselves and bodies to do THOUSANDS of different things in different environments all across the globe and even through space! However, it takes time….it takes a lot of time, practice and the mental fortitude to understand that like everything, hobbies, activities, skills, movements and more take a lot of time and repeat effort to be able to learn and master.

In fact, I don’t know any surfers that ever stop surfing…like most activities, you continue learning and experiencing and by minimizing your ego and being able to laugh at yourself, I feel like the true joy comes from being part of the process. The peak is never the end goal, the happiness comes from living through the journey, and that’s probably the best way I can explain our surf lessons down in Puerto Viejo.

**Big shoutout to Dexter and his crew for giving us those amazing lessons. You guys ROCK and if you’re reading this someday, I hope you know we are all eternally grateful for the time you spent with us down there. Also, Kevin Walsh - you rock, man! Thanks for taking all these DOPE photos while we were learning how to shred. Tony, Candace, Cole, Simonne, you all were the best surfers out there and it was a blast to watch all of you!

Down below are all 56 photos from our two-hours of surfing in Puerto Viejo, but if you’re feeling like you want to give us some extra love, head over to our Facebook Album and toss us some likes on the photos there. Just don’t forget to tag your friends as well.

Comment below, let me know what some of your favorite memories from the trip were, and if you have any surf tips…shoot me a line or a thought down below in a comment or via email at:

See ya out there….

~ Cam OUT